Leila S. Chudori: “Tong Tong Fair: A Festival of Two (Or Three) Natures”

Leila-Chudori-Tong Tong Fair-HTijdens de opening van de 57e Tong Tong Fair op 27 mei 2015 bracht de Indonesische schrijfster en journalist Leila S. Chudori een ode aan het festival. Chudori maakte in 2014 voor het eerst kennis met de Tong Tong Fair en sprak nu over hoe zij “de magie van het evenement” had ervaren als een viering van de unieke identiteit van de Indo-Europeaan. Zij roemde met name de literaire discussies, dansvoorstellingen, muziek en film tijdens het Tong Tong Festival, die ervoor zorgen dat niet alleen terug wordt gekeken op het verleden, maar vooral actief op zoek wordt gegaan naar de huidige Indo-Europese identiteit.

Chudori definieerde de Tong Tong Fair als “een laboratorium waar de betekenis van de Nederlands-Indonesische cultuur wordt geherdefinieerd.” Voor een omschrijving van die unieke identiteit verwees zij terug naar de woorden van de Indische schrijver (en oprichter van Tong Tong) Tjalie Robinson, die de Indische Nederlanders eens vergeleek met een schildpad: in staat om zowel op land als in zee te leven. Thuis in meerdere werelden. Al met al is de Tong Tong Fair volgens Chudori dan ook met recht te typeren als een “celebration of diversity”.

Chudori is aanwezig tijdens de Tong Tong Fair waar zij geïnterviewd zal worden over haar nieuwste boek Pulang dat binnenkort zal verschijnen als Naar huis in de Nederlandse vertaling van Henk Maier. De roman is een familiegeschiedenis tegen de achtergrond van de gebeurtenissen in 1965, de communistenjacht die daarop volgde en de ballingschap die toen voor sommige Indonesiërs begon. Met dit boek won de schrijfster in 2013 de belangrijkste Indonesische literaire prijs, Khatulistiwa Literary Award. 

Hierbij haar Engelstalige speech van 27 mei 2015.

Speech Leila S. Chudori

Tong Tong Fair: A Festival of Two (Or Three)  Natures

A small town. A small community. The town is called Den Haag and the community consists of Dutch-Indonesians who gather under a festival called Tong Tong Fair, that was born 56 years ago under the name of Pasar Malam Besar.

My first encounter with the scent of the Dutch-Indies was during my teenage years when my parents — who went to university and married in Amsterdam — gave me a book titled Tjies and Tjuk by Tjalie Robinson, who was more widely known as Vincent Mahieu. My next introduction to an Indo writer was with the novel Sebuah Rumah Nun Di Sana – The Last House in the World by Beb Vuyk, who was coincidentally friends with my father who worked as a journalist. This book opened the firmament of the issues in the Dutch-Indies, “homeland”, and life in “two different natures” which I later recognized in Tjalie’s writing:

“I stubbornly named the turtle as ‘neither fish nor fowl,’ and praised this animal as a unique, land-and-sea-lover who lives to very old ages, whose meat has an excellent taste, and who cuts through oceans from continent to continent. I said, “Just as I do not find the turtle inferior, although he is neither fish nor fowl, I do not think the Indo inferior.”

After I grew up, of course I learnt about the Pasar Malam Besar, a celebration and festival that was important for Dutch-Indos living in Holland but it was only last year, I experienced Tong Tong Fair, that has metamorphosed from the Pasar Malam Besar. My first encounter gave me a new outlook in that, Tong Tong Fair was not just a celebration to gather and enjoy good food, fun tunes and reminisce about the past.

Inside Malieveld, where Tong Tong Fair is held, I witnessed magic. In this wide field, suddenly, there were two large islands emerging without notice, alive and enchanting the visitors for two weeks.

It was as if Tjalie Robinson’s vision was realized into Tong Tong Fair and everything inside it, a unique island that has been sustained and became a part of Holland (and Indonesia); an island and community that refuses to melt and drown into the Western culture.

Entering Tong Tong Fair in Malieveld was like entering a celebration of diversity in the middle of Den Haag that is so ‘white’ and so ‘Dutch’: there is music of the past: keroncong, gamelan, and even Indonesian rock, which, in my opinion, has different beats and rhythms to rock music from the West that I knew; there’s the Looming Fire exhibition that displays a series of documentaries of the day-to-day lives of Dutch and Dutch-Indo families in Hindia Belanda in the 1940s. And of course, here and there, we see various forms of arts and crafts and art works that are Indonesian to the very core: wayang and batik.

In addition to that, the air in Malieveld mingles with the scent of Indonesian food, not only satay and fried rice, but even complex Indonesian dishes like lamb curry and lontong sayur that has been served complete with serious and accurate seasonings.

However, the important aspects that are interesting and close to my heart are the literary discussions; dance performances, music, screenings and discussions of Indonesian films, that give an indication that Tong Tong Fair is a community that has metamorphosed into a laboratory that has redefined the meaning of Dutch-Indonesian culture.

By adding to the vocabulary of Indonesian culture, and reaffirming the sanctity of the Dutch Culture, then the Dutch-Indo community will too, blossom. This community is successful in their attempts to record and absorb various positive aspects, that are interesting and unique from both cultures.

From what I learned last year, Tong Tong Fair is no longer a definition for melancholy and nostalgia. Nostalgia is merely something sentimental that pains us because what we had is no longer within our grasp. I do not feel that Tong Tong Fair merely wants to caress the shape of the culture of our past that have now become museum artifacts. In actuality, they desire to chase the progress and the diversity of modern Indonesian culture, which, must be admitted, has become a part of Dutch-Indo culture.

I was invited here last year and this year too for my novel, titled Pulang or Naar Huis that has been translated into Dutch by Hendrik Maier. It tells the story of Indonesian political exiles in Paris and other cities in Europe, who cannot return to Indonesia after the tragedy on 30 September 1965. In the novel, I describe their generation as follows:

“My roots were in a foreign land, in a country with a beautiful body and fragrant scent, a place that gave the world the scent of cloves and wasted sadness; a land of fecundity, rich with plants of myriad colors, shapes, and faiths, yet one that could crush its own citizens merely because of a difference in opinion.”

The history of the exiled community and the following generation are quite different from that of the Dutch-Indo’s, but one of its many similarities is, that many of the second generation share the same history and blood in their body; those who realize this, whether they like it or not, have a pair of father and mother: Indonesia and Holland.

“Coursing through my veins was a kind of blood I did not know, but which was called Indonesia, and which melded with the other kind of blood in me called France. The flow of that foreign blood inside me always seemed to quicken and make my heart beat faster whenever I heard the sound of gamelan music in the biting cold of winter; when my father recounted tales from the shadow theater.”

Here, the blood in those veins is composed of Indonesians and the Dutch.

The uniqueness of Tong Tong Fair, that was born from Tjalie’s idea was not merely celebration of revisiting; it is not merely a celebration of nostalgia nor sentimentality. It began with a need of a “declaration” of the independent of Dutch-Indo identities. The implications of this statement were the marriage of two cultures, two traditions, and two languages which influence each other, intercrossing, and caressing in an entity: a community of Indo-Belanda.  I think this community is celebrating a new independent identity; one that proclaims the shape of art and community is something unique, but still is a part of two countries: Indonesia and Holland.

For me, this is a way to give respect to those two (or more) cultures; or as Tjalie said: to two or more natures like the turtle.  These two cultures, at one point may have become a part of a history of conflict and blood, but now has blossomed into a feeling of ownership and togetherness. For me, turtles do not only live in the sea and on land, but they can also fly.

Leila S. Chudori